Much to Naudrek’s annoyance, Einarr insisted on taking the midnight watch that night. “This is your quest, Einarr. You owe it to yourself to be fresh for it in the morning.”
“You’re right. This is my quest. But I deeply mislike the situation I’ve brought you all into, and of all of us there are three who are best equipped to deal with the minions of Hel. Me, Hrug, and Eydri. And I’m the only one who can keep my own watch.”
“But—” Naudrek tried to protest again.
“But what? Don’t tell me you’re worried I’ll try to handle too much alone?”
The other man clapped his mouth shut. Einarr shook his head, chuckling. “Go to sleep. I’ll wake you first if anything happens. There will be nights enough when I’m the one sleeping the whole night.”
“…As you say.”
Now Einarr sat by the fire, polishing Sinmora’s blade while he waited to see what, if anything, the denizens of this place were going to throw at them this night. When he had relieved Troa’s watch, the man had seen nothing – which under ordinary circumstances meant there was nothing to see, and so far, neither had he.
A wisp of mist floated past outside the door of the chamber where they had made camp, glowing white. Einarr followed it with one eye: it was interesting, but after dealing with the Althane’s court he was not about to go wandering off after ghost light if he didn’t have to, alone or not.
From the other direction, a rattling noise caught his attention, but when he turned to look there was nothing there. That might bear investigating. Einarr stood, keeping hold of Sinmora’s hilt in a loose grip, and stepped softly over to the door. When he got there, though, there was nothing to see. With a sigh, he returned to his spot on the wall and polishing his sword.
Either someone – or something – is watching us, or they’re trying to lure me out. Well, they can watch us sleep if they must, but I won’t be lured. Einarr snorted, and kept a frequent eye turned in either direction.
When Finn, on the dawn watch, woke everyone come morning he reported with some puzzlement that he had seen nothing unusual. Einarr pressed his lips together and knitted his brow, then sighed. “So that means someone was after me, specifically, last night.”
Eydri perked up. “Why? What did you see?”
“Not much. The occasional wisp of ghost light, and once or twice I heard bones rattling. The sorts of things you might do if you deliberately wanted to draw someone out alone.”
Now it was Eydri’s turn to knit her brow. “And if they wanted to draw you out, specifically, was it fair or foul?”
Einarr shrugged. “Don’t know. Doesn’t matter, really. When we’re searching today, though, everyone stays in pairs. I don’t care if you’re just going out to shit, you take someone to watch your back.”
“Now. As soon as we’re all ready, we need to start searching this place, top to bottom. There’s got to be some record of where Grandfather buried Ragnar. We need to stay focused here.” And not get wrapped up in some curse that doesn’t truly have anything to do with you. Get the sword and get home, don’t get wrapped up trying to fix whatever happened here a hundred years ago. The last time he’d done that was on the Althane’s island, and he’d cost the lives of far too many of Father’s crew.
Finn started pulling wooden truncheons from his pack, and it was only then that Einarr realized the other man had spent a good portion of his watch cooking breakfast. He chuckled. “Three cheers for Finn! What have you boiled for us?”
Not long after, with the fire thoroughly doused, they split into three teams. Naudrek and Hrug went southeast, Finn and Odvir went west, and Einarr took Eydri and Troa to the northeast. “Eyes open, blades limber. Good hunting,” he told them all in the courtyard as they parted ways.
“Good hunting,” came the murmured response.
For hours the three of them combed through forgotten guest chambers, store rooms and workshops. Occasionally they would find a bound scroll of birch bark, or a carved slate, but these all appeared to be inventories of what had once been stored within.
The sky overhead was still a flat, overcast grey, such that nothing seemed to cast its shadow. Einarr tried not to focus on it as he searched: it sent shivers down his spine. Anyone could be hiding in a place like this: hiding, and watching, as someone clearly had been the night before. He was, he could admit to himself, just as glad to have a third person along – even if he had argued with Naudrek that morning that the scouts were the ones in most danger.
With a sigh, he blew dust off the top of a moss-covered wooden box that sat, still unopened, in the corner of the current store room. A large tuft of dead moss tumbled down to the ground, revealing the remains of a carving on the lid. He raised an eyebrow: curious, Einarr started brushing away the moss.
The central image was simple enough: it was a longship – not, so far as he could tell, Hel’s – with a dragon’s head on the prow. He’d seen more than one like it already, and all of them had been worthless to him. This one, however, showed the remnants of runework around the edges of the box. Unfortunately, between the light and the age of the work, he couldn’t make it out. “Eydri? What do you make of this?”
The Singer, much smudged by the grime of ages, gave him a frustrated look. “Just another recipe box, isn’t it?”
“Who protects their recipes with rune wards?”
She furrowed her brow and stood to come look. That, however, was when they heard desperate shouts from the west. Einarr and Troa shared a look and a nod, and took off at a dead run towards the commotion.
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